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The popular model annelid Enchytraeus albidus is only one species in a complex of seashore White Worms (Clitellata, Enchytraeidae)

Journal article
Authors Christer Erséus
Mårten Klinth
Emilia Rota
Pierre De Wit
Daniel Gustafsson
Svante Martinsson
Published in Organisms Diversity & Evolution
Volume 19
Issue 2
Pages 105-133
ISSN 1439-6092
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of marine sciences
Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences
Pages 105-133
Language en
Keywords White worms Enchytraeus albidus Species complex Species delimitation Molecular taxonomy New species Model organisms Enchytraeus albellus sp. nov.
Subject categories Evolutionary Biology, Morphology, Biological Systematics


The white worm Enchytraeus albidus Henle, 1837 (Clitellata, Enchytraeidae) is easy to keep in laboratory cultures, and has therefore been employed as a model organism in basic and applied biological research. Its natural habitat includes terrestrial composts and wrack beds on seashores. However, the name E. albidus is currently used for a complex of morphologically similar and closely related species. We here revise the components of the E. albidus species complex based on a sample of 100 Enchytraeus specimens from 56 sites, most of which are across Europe. These samples were DNA-barcoded for the mitochon- drial COI gene. A subset of them was sequenced for the nuclear ITS2 and H3 markers. Six species were delimited with strong support by the COI and ITS2 gene trees, as well as by a multi-locus species delimitation analysis. These species are identified morphologically and described as E. albidus s. str. (with designation of a neotype); Enchytraeus moebii (Michaelsen, 1885); Enchytraeus albellus Klinth, Erséus and Rota, sp. nov., E. cf. krumbachi (Čejka, 1913), E. sp. 1 (unnamed), and Enchytraeus polatdemiri Arslan and Timm, 2018. The last-mentioned species is a soda lake specialist, whereas E. albidus s. str. is both terrestrial and marine littoral; all other species occur only in seashores. The phylogeny of this group was estimated using the multi-species coalescent model. Monophyly of the E. albidus complex was recovered. Within this complex, three groups were recovered as monophyletic, but the relationship between them is unclear. One group comprises E. albidus s. str., E. albellus, and E. moebii; the second group E. cf. krumbachi and the unnamed E. sp. 1, and the third consists of only E. polatdemiri. This study serves as a framework for genetic identification of white worms used for experimental purposes.

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